Edinburgh’s compact size makes it easy to explore on foot, but there’s also the option of traveling on a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. Whether you have a taste for tree-lined streets and sprawling public parks or chic cocktail bars and spirited nightlife, here are Edinburgh’s best neighborhoods to explore.
Your first stop for history and sightseeing. A maze of cobbled, medieval-era streets and weaving alleyways that fan out from the Royal Mile, Old Town is the oldest part of the city and typically the first stop on any visitor’s itinerary. Start by exploring the Royal Mile on foot, heading towards the famous Edinburgh Castle, perched atop an extinct volcano. Follow the Royal Mile in the other direction, and you’ll end up at the Palace of Holyroodhouse—the Royal Scottish residence. For a unique Old Town experience, join a tour of the underground vaults or a spine-chilling tour focused on the neighborhood’s dark history.
Best for stately streets, shopping, and sipping cocktails. Together with the Old Town, Edinburgh’s New Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The two are divided by Princes Street Gardens, where you’ll have an incredible view of Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping thoroughfare. The description “new” here is relative, as most buildings in the New Town date from the late-18th to mid-19th centuries. History is close at hand in the New Town—take a walking tour to admire its neo-classical, Gothic, and Georgian architecture and learn about how the neighborhood was the center of the Enlightenment. The New Town is also your best bet for upscale restaurants and chic cocktail bars.
For lazy days and river strolls. Well-heeled Stockbridge has all the charm of a quaint village but is just a 15-minute walk from the heart of the city. The neighborhood is popular with local families and professionals, who stroll the main street, Raeburn Place, on weekends to shop for organic produce and stop for coffee and lunch at stylish bars and cafés. Visit on Sunday to peruse the Stockbridge Market for tasty cuisine and handmade knick-knacks. Nearby, Dean Village is a picturesque, leafy oasis by the Water of Leith that’s perfect for snapping memorable photos.
Shutterstock This revived seaport is Edinburgh’s prime nightlife destination. Follow the Water of Leith walkway north from Stockbridge and you’ll eventually end up in Edinburgh’s old port, Leith. The area is steeped in maritime history, but in recent years, the formerly run-down waterfront buildings have been renovated and transformed into cosmopolitan restaurants, bars, and delis offering global fare. At the top of Leith Walk, you’ll find the LGBTQ-friendly Pink Triangle area, home to Edinburgh’s oldest gay bar, CC Blooms. At the other end, you can take a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, formerly used by Queen Elizabeth to sail around the world on state visits.
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The city’s cultural hub. The heart of the West End, Lothian Road, is home to the Usher Hall concert venue. An ideal evening destination for cultural enthusiasts, the venue features two of Edinburgh’s best theaters, the Lyceum and Traverse, and the Filmhouse—an arthouse cinema. A cluster of small independent bars and boutiques add to the neighborhood’s bohemian vibe. The West End stretches into Haymarket, which rugby fans know as the home of Murrayfield, Scotland’s largest stadium.
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This neighborhood’s charming streets are home to hidden gems. Primarily residential, Marchmont is separated from the Old Town by the leafy Meadows, a sprawling public park where you’ll find many locals relaxing and (occasionally) soaking up the sun. Marchmont’s tree-lined streets, boutique stores, and cozy cafés are all well worth a wander, as is having a swim at the Victorian-era Warrender Baths and catching a movie at the nearby art house cinema, The Cameo.
Edinburgh’s charming beach retreat. Visitors to Edinburgh may not immediately think of hitting the beach, but the coastal suburb of Portobello is perfect for a retro-style seaside outing. Only 30 minutes by bus from Princes Street, Portobello has an attractive sandy beach and several ice cream parlors, old-school arcades, and beach-front cafés perfect for a sunny day.